Saturday, April 20, 2024

Put the economy first


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Mr Speaker, last month – on September 5 – I was moved to speak for the first time since physically departing these earthly shores. Apparently, given what has transpired over the month, my concerns of my beloved country being on a course of destruction are real and not imagined.
I therefore rise to speak again, much sooner than I had anticipated, on a point of privilege. It is known that a motion concerning the privileges of the House takes precedence over all other public business. I would have obtained the leave of the Speaker and he has determined that a prima facie case has been made out for the matter to be referred to the Committee of Privileges.
In the circumstances, I am aware that I cannot speak for more than 15 minutes and equally there shall be no debate. This leaves me with no choice but to be frank, concise and truthful.
Barbados’ fiscal crisis has now been elevated to an economic crisis. Given all the evidence, the once adequate stock of foreign reserves has succumbed to the pressure of the excessive printing of money, the growing lack of confidence in the economy and the increasing incompetence of the current Government. As a result, a balance of payments crisis is beginning to take shape and coupled with the lack of economic growth, the crisis is no longer confined to the fiscal accounts.
Mr Speaker, I speak from the perspective of someone trained at the London School of Economics who held the post of Minister of Finance for the better part of my journey as Prime Minister. In periods of crisis, it is even more imperative for frankness to be the hallmark of any assessment, whether one is speaking on the economy, the society or the politics of the land. It is quite evident that the confidence of the people has not been embraced by the current Government, which is not the Barbadian way.
There is a growing tendency in political terms for modern charisma to be staged charisma, where the emphasis is on the packaging and selling of individuals and images rather than on ideas and policies. Unprepared individuals are more interested in voice training with the correct emphasis and inflexion than in training their minds for the task of governing a country, before political power has been seized.
It is a source of great concern for me that apart from all the missteps in recent policy prescriptions, the Government issued a bond tender on the international market that had to be withdrawn. It is one thing for the Government’s incompetence to be displayed at home, but when the international stage is chosen to parade our ignorance, it becomes a major source of embarrassment.
Mr Speaker, there is an obvious rift on public policy between the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister. This was always forthcoming, given the way in which the former was initially appointed and the obvious intent of the person who appointed him. As Bajans would say, “Two man rats can’t live in the same hole”.
Perhaps, this does speak to the need for the same person to hold these two positions, such that there is ultimate accountability. In my last term of office, I might have made an error in separating the two, to my chagrin. Though, I must confess that unlike the current Prime Minister, I never felt other than primus inter pares. But then again, I was from a plantation-owning, black, middle class family, who felt at home and totally comfortable with the common man.
On the serious side, the time has come to put the Barbados economy first. It has to be fixed. The best way to fix it is to first understand it. This process of understanding it must never be taken lightly. From as early as the 1960s, I never took managing the economy as something other than a very serious endeavour with some basis in science, while at all times appreciating that it is ultimately about the human condition.
However, the evidence is clear that the country has lost its way and needs help badly. This Parliament is where the people’s business has to be done and now is not the time to be worrying about fulfilling prophecy or denying inheritance. This is not the time to indulge in Macbeth’s “false face must hide what the false heart doth know”.      
Mr Speaker, a direct path to truth is required. Two negatives only make a positive in mathematics!
Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email


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